Written by Natasha Goss
The high cost of attending law school is on many students’ minds. While some seek out jobs at large law firms to pay down six-figure debt, others enter public interest work and find themselves navigating complex payment assistance programs. Law Students for Economic Justice (LSEJ) recently produced a primer on NYU Law’s loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) that is meant to demystify the process.
When members of LSEJ realized they were uncertain about exactly what the program covered, they realized that the general student community could use guidance. LSEJ members developed the guide—an effort spearheaded by Hugh Baran (J.D. ’17), Heather Stoloff (J.D. ’18), and Audrey Winn (J.D. ’18)—in order to clarify the options available to NYU Law students exploring public interest work. While the Student Financial Services department does an excellent job providing one-on-one assistance, says Mr. Baran, an editor-in-chief of the NYU Review of Law & Social Change and coauthor of the primer, students who don’t seek in-person guidance are often left in the dark.
The guide explains the coverage offered by the NYU LRAP alone as well as by an integrated LRAP available to those whose employment makes them eligible for both federal and school-based loan repayment aid. “Back in the day, there was only one LRAP,” Ms. Stoloff notes, “and NYU makes more employment options available than under the federal LRAP program.” Although the coauthors would like to see these two programs offering more similar benefits, they agree that NYU Law “does leaps and bounds more on the program than other law schools.” The standard NYU LRAP expands assistance to those working for organizations not covered by federal assistance programs, including overseas NGOs, foreign governments, labor unions, and public-interest law firms.
Some students are concerned that savings or an increase in salary over time will make them ineligible for the program. Recipients may have other savings and assets up to $20,000 in excess of total debt, including non-loan debt such as mortgages and car loans. Retirement savings are exempt from this calculation.
LSEJ hopes that the guide will help inform students about LRAP and empower them to take fuller advantage of the loan assistance programs the school provides. In addition, they believe that students will be better able to advocate for changes in the program to serve their career goals. The LSEJ authors see room for improvement in one measure, however: they believe that the expected student contribution should be reduced or eliminated. Beginning with the class of 2018, that contribution increased from $1,700 to $5,000 for each year spent at the law school. Although the contribution is intended to make NYU Law graduates feel invested in their education, Mr. Baran feels that “students shouldn’t have to prove their commitment to public interest by taking out less than the loans they are eligible for.” Ms. Stoloff chose NYU because she “wanted to go to a school where being public interest was a viable option even without a scholarship” and knows many others who feel the same way.
One young lawyer taking advantage of NYU’s LRAP is Jehan Laner (J.D. ’15) who works for Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto. Although she received a Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholarship, she still took out loans for housing while in law school. Ms. Laner noted that NYU’s LRAP covers her entire monthly payment entirely because she makes less than the salary cap, currently $80,000 under the integrated LRAP. She was also able to obtain repayment assistance for her bar exam loan. (Both the integrated and NYU-only LRAP cover bar loans of up to $10,000; because the program assumes on a ten-year repayment period, the process is simplified if applicants receive ten-year loans.)
Ms. Laner says she is “delighted that [LRAP] exists and that NYU covers monthly payments.” At the beginning of her participation in the program, she was required to transfer her loans to Fed Loan Servicing, and recalls that “the process was a little long, but the office is very helpful.” When delays led to her making one month’s payment out-of-pocket, she was reimbursed retroactively.
Generally, NYU disburses assistance to LRAP recipients semiannually; students pay their loan provider directly. Recipients must reapply to the program each year to confirm their eligibility.
LSEJ is working with the Office of Financial Services to integrate public interest education, including more frequent sessions on student loan strategies, into the annual schedule of student events. The coauthors emphasize that the guide is meant to provide students with a basic orientation to the types of assistance available, and encourages students to contact Student Financial Services for assistance in their particular situations.